Boys of the Fort/28
THE DEMANDS OF THE ENEMY.
It was an hour later, when the excitement had cooled down a little, that Captain Moore sent for Benson again. Wondering what was to follow, the old scout hurried to the room in which the young commander was transacting his business.
"I want a little talk with you in private, Benson," said the young officer.
"I know you ve been wondering why I didn't send you to Fort Prescott instead of sending Hank Leeson."
"You had a right to do as you pleased, captain."
"The truth of the matter is, Benson, I wanted you here. You brought Joe and Darry to the fort, and those two boys need looking after. We are going to have a fight, sooner or later. We may win, and if we do, all right. But if we don't—"
"You want me to stand by the boys to the last?" put in the old scout quickly.
"I do, Benson; and, no matter what comes, I want you to promise to do your level best to save them, and see them safe back to the East. If the worst comes I am willing to die fighting, but Joe must get out of it somehow. If he doesn't it will break my mother's heart. And you must do as well by Darry, for he is an only child."
The eyes of the old scout and the young captain met. Then Benson put out his hand, which Captain Moore quickly grasped.
"I understand, captain. I'll do my best, and if those lads don't get away it will be because Sam Benson aint alive to take 'em."
"As you are not a soldier you have a right to leave the fort as quickly as you please," went on the young captain. "Therefore, if you see the tide of battle turning against us, don t wait, but get the boys away as speedily and as secretly as you can."
"I will, captain; but yourself—"
"Never mind me. Get the boys to a place of safety, and I know our family and Darry's family will reward you well."
"I won't want any reward. I took to the lads from the start, and I'll stand by 'em through thick and thin," said old Benson.
There was but little sleeping done in the fort that night. The majority of the soldiers slept on their arms, expecting an alarm at any moment. Yet it did not come, and the sun rose on a scene of perfect peace and quiet.
But at eight o clock a sentinel announced a horseman approaching, bearing a white flag.
"So they want to talk, eh?" said the young captain. "All right, anything to gain time."
The flag of truce was promptly answered, and as the horseman came closer many recognized Matt Gilroy. The young captain went out himself to meet the leader of the desperadoes.
"Good-morning, Captain Moore," began the desperado, with a regular military salute.
"What brings you?" demanded the captain abruptly.
"Well, I thought we had best come to terms—that's what brought me."
"Terms about what, Gilroy?"
"Terms about surrendering the fort and all of its contents."
"Surrendering? To whom?"
"You know well enough, Captain Moore. It will be only a waste of time to beat about the bush. Our crowd and the Indians now number over three hundred, and we are bound to get possession of the fort and all that is in it."
"Do you speak for the Indians as well as for?"
"So far as I know the Indians are not on the warpath, Gilroy. I must have a talk with one of their chiefs before I do anything."
"You know they are on the warpath. Didn't you have a mix-up with them?"
"There are always some Indians who are ugly and willing to make trouble."
"Well, all the Indians are standing in with us on this deal," went on Gilroy, his face darkening. "And you have got to surrender or take the consequences."
"What will the consequences be?"
"If you won't surrender we'll attack the fort immediately. We know just how weak you are, and let me tell you that we have a dozen or more dynamite bombs on hand with which we can blow the fort sky-high if we wish."
"What good will it do you to capture the fort?"
"We know all about the money that is stored here, and we want every dollar of it."
"And if we surrender?"
"If you surrender you will be allowed to march from the place unmolested, taking all of your sick with you, or leaving them here, in care of a doctor, if you prefer. If you know where your head is level you will surrender," went on the desperado earnestly.
"But if I am compelled to surrender, don't you know that our army will be after you, Gilroy?"
"Never mind, we'll take care of that part of it," was the answer, with a sickly grin. "Then you agree to surrender?"
"I can't do it until I have spoken with one of the leading Indian chiefs."
At this the desperado's face fell.
"Will White Ox do?" he asked, after an awkward pause.
"All right; I ll bring him along in about half an hour."
This ended the interview, and turning his horse Matt Gilroy rode off and Captain Moore walked back to the fort.
"A little time gained, at least," was the young officer's comment.
It was fully an hour before Gilroy reappeared, accompanied by White Ox and an under-chief known as Little Wildcat.
"Want to talk," grunted White Ox, coming to a halt at a safe distance.
"Have you dug up the hatchet, White Ox?" demanded the captain. "If not, let us smoke the pipe of peace together."
"The pipe of peace is broken," answered the old Indian. "The white man is not the red man's friend. He makes promises only to break them. The Indian must fight for what is his own."
"Do you consider this fort your own?"
"The land is the red man's—the white man has stolen it from him. The white man must go and leave the red man to his own."
"If you want the white man to go why don't you drive Gilroy and his gang away too?"
"They have promised to leave—after they have had their share of what is here."
"Oh, so that's the bargain!"
"You see how matters stand, Captain Moore," broke in the leader of the desperadoes. "If you know when you are well off, you'll submit as gracefully as possible."
"If we leave will you promise to let all go in peace," went on the young captain to the Indian chief, "you will not molest the women or any of the young people?"
"Yes, all the women and young people can go," said White Ox, but the look in his face was not one to be trusted.
"And if we refuse when do you expect to attack us?"
The reply came from Matt Gilroy, and White Ox nodded in the affirmative.
"I must consult Colonel Fairfield first," said the captain slowly, wondering how he was to gain more time.
"I thought you were in command," remarked Gilroy.
"I was—but the colonel is getting better. Meet me here in another hour, and I will give you his reply and my own."
This did not suit Gilroy and White Ox, but the captain was firm, and at last they went off, promising to be back exactly at the end of the hour.
"And then it must be surrender or fight," said the leader of the desperadoes sharply. "No more dilly-dallying."
It must, be confessed that Captain Moore returned to the fort in a thoughtful mood. He had an awful responsibility upon his shoulders. He called several of the other officers in consultation.
"For myself, I believe in fighting," he said. "But we must consider those who are sick and must consider the women."
"The colonel's wife wishes us to fight to the end," replied another officer. "She is not willing to trust White Ox or any of the other red skins."
"I don't believe in surrendering," put in an other. "Let us see if we can't hold off until we hear from Leeson and Fort Prescott."
And so it was arranged.